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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 421-423

Music as a bed ‘rock’ of relaxation and awe

Department of Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission07-Apr-2020
Date of Decision14-Apr-2020
Date of Acceptance14-Apr-2020
Date of Web Publication19-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Anant Ramaswamy
Department of Medical Oncology, TMH, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Mumbai - 400 012, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_138_20

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How to cite this article:
Ramaswamy A. Music as a bed ‘rock’ of relaxation and awe. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:421-3

How to cite this URL:
Ramaswamy A. Music as a bed ‘rock’ of relaxation and awe. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 29];3:421-3. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/3/421/295530

The editor-in-chief and I were discussing a whole lot of things in a common clinic, when, from somewhere, up popped CRST and the fact that getting oncologists to write a perspective was tougher than getting residents to complete their thesis. By the way, my sympathies lie completely with the residents on this one, having been in a similar situation not more than 5 years ago. However, I did feel that the chief editor was due some empathy herself at that point in time and felt it was my obligation to suggest a few names who could contribute (Yes, I am to blame for those calls/emails/messages/stern glances to some of you!). And lo and behold, I got sucked into the empathy vortex and agreed to write for CRST in a month's time (I do think it was a calculated move, madam editor!).

Hence, what could I write on? The brief was that there had to be some relation to medicine. As a physician trained in busy Indian government hospitals, I have had my fair share of experiences that would traverse most lengths of a common spectrum; heart-warming, uplifting, joyous exhaustion, cheap thrills, bonding to demoralizing, frustrating, sickened, angry, and tiredness with all the hues in between. However, such experiences have been penned by many before in a language far superior to what I might conjure. Realizing that deadlines were to be met (not the date, but the editor's glances were turning darker by the week), I tried re-treading the paths taken before. I read two of my favorite books on medical literature – 'House of God' by Samuel Shem and 'The Citadel' by A J Cronin – in search of inspiration. While the books remained enjoyable and instructive as ever, the creative part of the soul in me had probably been calcified and hidden deep in some crevasse, thanks to oncology. Moreover, then, in a blinding flash of realization when the night turned sunny and the temple bells started ringing…No, actually I figured it out on a lazy Sunday afternoon while being at my couch-potato best ruminating on Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell. Why not relate how I unearthed music I liked? After all, I did realize my musical palate while learning medicine.

Having been brought up in Dubai till the 10th Grade, my musical experiences were limited to Carnatic music (mom's an aficionado), ghazals* (dad), old Hindi numbers (nice, but somehow appeared dated to an 80's kid), and newer Hindi film numbers (generally around). Philips Top 10 was an eagerly awaited weekly program that allowed access to hummable numbers, though with limited lasting impact. Songs came and went, but few remained etched in memory. The Mozart of Madras, A.R. Rahman (ARR), gate-crashed the 90's with his unique sound and approach, and his music made me a follower from day 1. Till date, there are tunes by ARR in Tamil and Hindi that can be replayed, enjoyed, and evoke wonder at all times. Exposure to non-Indian music somehow always resulted in being checkmated by Michael Jackson, whose music really did not get me going (apologies to the millions of fans!).

There I was in my ARR shaped musical cubbyhole, content with really not much inkling of things to come or the will to experiment. Enter Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), or rather I entered AFMC as an undergraduate, all musically green. The first 3–4 months were a misty haze, thanks to our intensive friendly 'orientation' program (you know what that means!). However, even in that period, there were these snippets and interludes of aural awakening that remained; there were pieces of music that were thoughtful, ponderous, mystical, and sometimes even delightfully violent (the word psychedelic was foreign to me till then). I heard monologues and phrases like, “a world of magnets and miracles,” “nothing else matters,” “his brain is squirmin' like a toad,” etc., I heard thunderous and yet, beautiful guitar riffs by people with names that were synonyms for knives (Slash) and Count Dracula (Van Halen). The musical overload may have gotten too much, but for friends who were well-versed with good rock music. A couple of dear friends, RC and SR, suggested I start with 'Nevermind' by Nirvana (my first rock music cassette). By day 2, I was playing 'Something in the way' and 'Smells like Teen Spirit' on loop on my trusty old Walkman. Hook, line and sinker!

At first in a rush, then slowly and systematically, I started exploring the field of rock music and its off-shoots. I learnt that Pink Floyd was considered the 'God' of music in AFMC (and many other colleges as I came to understand later), with people actually differentiating eras of Floyd they preferred (Barrett, post-Barrett, Gilmour, etc.). Our Mardi Gras, like passing out celebrations (post-final exams) and college weeks, always had the audio-visual background of 'P.U.L.S.E.'*** with not so innocent medicos in the foreground, sloshed and high. Everyone has their take on Floyd – my personal favorite was the quieter Gilmour era album, Division Bell.

MBBS is a time for developing and growing your interest in medicine; it is also a phase of exploration and nuance. My exploration of music also grew – I realized that certain rock stars did not appeal to my senses (I still don't always 'get' music by The Doors, Arctic Monkeys, Smashing Pumpkins among others) and certain musicians still enthralled me, even at their worst (I actually liked St. Anger by Metallica). A lot of alternative music began to resonate with me over the course of my undergrad. Bands like The Goo Goo Dolls, The Cranberries, and Linkin Park occupied a fair amount of hearing time because playing them was a tad easier than the constant reflections and involvement required when I listened to psychedelia and classic rock. Although I had developed a particular taste in sound, I could not always indulge myself in the same (besides upgrading from a Walkman to CD man). As last-minute preexamination cramming (would not call it anything else!) was a way of life in MBBS, you could not afford to react to the music while trying to memorize anatomy, biochemistry or the toughest of all, preventive and social medicine. And so, Robert Miles, Enya, Buddha Bar, and more languid music of their ilk were the favorites during times of academic super stress, a comfortable symbiosis between the auditory and frontal cortices working in unison. But this was just me. There were guys around who could burn the midnight oil humming (is that even possible?) to Cannibal Corpse and German death metal just as well. But yes, I got back to more stimulatory rock when the results were out (mostly!).

As I passed through an eventful and busy internship in Delhi and into MD Medicine through a drop year, music remained in the background at all times. I still remember looping 'Hell bent for leather,' 'Come Undone,' and 'Mayya Mayya' from the movie 'Guru' in a state of nervous anticipation (besides the mandatory bribes to the one above and temple visits!) while waiting for the All India Postgsraduate Medical Entrance Examination results. Why that particular unlikely combination at that particular time still beats me!

While MBBS was relatively carefree, MD (medicine) at KGMC (King George's Medical College, Lucknow) and DM (medical oncology) at the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH, Mumbai, India) were different beasts. I discovered hitherto unknown powers of staying awake and keeping Morpheus away in my 1st year of MD. My first posting was in Ward 1, which was the emergency ward. Sunlight went out of the window and remained hidden for a good 2 months as slogging became natural. The world was divided into poisonings, congestive heart failure, malaria, meningitis, and diabetic ketoacidosis, and 3–4 h of valuable sleep. Nothing Else 'Matter'ed!

Post the first 3–4 months, I discovered how my 128 GB iPod worked. Working assiduously with whatever little time I had, I painstakingly transferred my carefully curated clutch of music to iTunes and synced it to my iPod over the course of two months. For the next eight to nine years, the iPod never left my side. Post-ward duties, during hectic casualty calls, after case presentations in which you felt like a little worm while completing those mind-numbingly boring case sheets and electronic medical records notes, music of all kinds provided calm, temperance, and relaxation.

DM training in TMH can be more than a little intimidating, especially when you are faced with competence at all levels at one end, and patients whose illnesses are not always going to end well at the other. Training in medicine does not prepare you for oncology and a lot of my experiences while training kept the uneasiness ticker constantly running. So, it was a comfort to know that the effect of music remained unchanged, always around to soothe and calm frayed nerves, even at 11 pm at night when you were trudging your weary way home (while there were six private category acute myeloid leukemia patients spiking fever post induction!). I also found a couple of creations that captured the essence of struggles with cancer– 'Cancer' by My Chemical Romance and 'Good Riddance' by Green Day (try them!).

Training in Medicine in India builds mental fortitude perse, but music (besides family, and lovely batchmates, I must add!) definitely eased things for me. While I did not broaden my taste too much during these times, I grew to understand what aspects of music attracted me. I always instinctively reacted to entire albums than individual songs before making up my mind. The tone of an album had something to say, I felt. Additionally, it was and is always the sound and less the lyrics. The instrumentals of a song without the words were as alluring to me as the entire record. How else could I explain listening to German heavy metal (which is the only heavy metal I like) and movie soundtracks? Sure, lyrics are important, and some song writing has universal appeal (Try Blowing in the Wind, Sound of Silence, High hopes, Dil se to name a few), but I felt it was the melody and rhythm that allowed me to ponder, pontificate in isolation, and essentially feel better, if not uplifted. To think of music as providing the base for a jigsaw where the pieces are for you to sculpt and attach as you wish.

As physicians in training and then in practice in India, a majority of us allow our work to engulf us. Blessed are those who have hobbies or their equivalents to allow other aspects of their lives to bloom. For me, I would like to think of my interest in music and its various genres as a form of passive growth that is more than growth. Since I also stumbled upon rock music and its derivatives in college, it always serves as a throwback to some amazing and less complicated times. A cup of coffee, an open window, a novel, and music in my ears are growth too!

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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